Your family is complete. Mommy and Daddy and Baby make three, and Dog is a very happy fourth member of the group. You’ve worked hard to do things the right way, and now you can sit back and relax, right? Wrong! Once your dog is comfortable with the baby in the house, it’s time to start working on child-proofing him.
A crawling baby can seem very odd to your dog. The movement is unusual, and it puts the crawler right at the dog’s eye level. Prepare your dog in advance for this by playing “the crawling game.” Crawl toward your dog. When he looks up at you, pet and praise him and give him treats. The more you practice this, the more your dog will anticipate good things happening when someone crawls. Incorporate other family members into the fun as well. When your baby does start to crawl, your dog should be used to this unusual behavior and take it in stride.
While the crawling game does help most dogs, monitor your pet’s reaction when the baby starts to crawl. A dog with a strong hunting instinct may not realize that this creature on ground-level is the same one you previously carried from place to place. Even dogs that have never displayed any interest in hunting and that have been wonderful with the baby may have predatory instincts awakened as the child begins to crawl. If you see any signs of predatory behavior towards your child, seek the advice of a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist immediately. This is not an issue to experiment with at home.
As babies begin to explore the world, they touch and taste everything. It is your job to teach your child to treat the dog gently and with respect, but toddlers won’t understand this yet. As your baby starts to crawl and explore, it is imperative that you are available to supervise child/dog interactions. Before your baby starts crawling around, you need to help your dog get used to rough and sometimes painful handling.
Play “poke the pup” with your dog to prepare him. Get some small pieces of tasty treats, such as pieces of chicken or hot dog or cheese or leftover steak. Practice for a few minutes every day with your dog, and teach them that rough handling means a delicious tidbit is coming.
Poke your dog gently and then give him a treat. Repeat the poking five or six times in a row, several times a day. If you’re consistent, your dog should start to expect a treat when you poke him. When this happens, gradually make the pokes a little harder.
Do the same thing to teach your dog to tolerate pulling and touching. Target your dog’s ears, tail, fur and paws. Begin gently and gradually increase the pressure, always treating after the pull or touch. Make sure you do short sessions throughout the day, and give your dog plenty of non-annoying attention, too. If your dog begins to jump away or look stressed when you reach for him, you’ve probably increased the intensity of your pokes and pulls and touches too much, too quickly. Go back to gentle actions and start to slowly increase the intensity only after your dog seems happy and relaxed after touching.
It’s also important to make sure your dog is willing to share his possessions, whether that’s his food dish, his stuffed toy or his favorite bone. Even if your dog has never shown a possessive response, make someone approaching his things a positive experience. When your dog is near his food dish or other item, come near him and offer a reward. Gradually move closer so that you’re touching the item or food or removing it from him. When your dog is used to you doing this, have friends or family members start out by just approaching and rewarding. If your dog resents any of this and starts to guard the food or item, consult with a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist before proceeding.
These are just a few of the basic things you can do to prepare your dog for your baby’s graduation from cradled infant to active baby. Always encourage and motivate your dog with praise, treats and petting, and never scold or punish for fearful behavior. Be prepared to consult a professional if your dog responds in a way that concerns you.
Children and dogs are a great combination. Work with your dog now to be sure he’s prepared to be a great furry friend to your child.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.